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On Wednesday morning and evening our Lent course groups watched scenes from the movie Chocolat where the leading character, Vianne, befriends two wounded, broken women in her community. These two ladies are the sort of people you might be tempted to greet politely and then avoid – they are difficult and needy. But Vianne shows us another way: she spends time with them, and gives them the gifts of listening attentively and non-judgmentally to their stories and treating them as people of value. These seem to be pretty basic courtesies but the kindness Vianne shows is very powerful. It transforms both of these women – they blossom when treated with dignity. She literally changes their lives.
Together with the film clips, we read several passages from the New Testament where Jesus uses exactly the same approach to change the lives of some other wounded people. So, we talked about Matthew the tax-collector whom Jesus invited to follow him (even though he was a social outcast) and we noticed how Jesus was very happy to share meals with tax-collectors and prostitutes and others generally shunned by respectable society.
Two things stood out for me as we began to think through the implications of this material for our community here at UMC:
1. First, the challenge – it is easy to romanticise what Vianne does, but it took effort and patience and grace. When we give the gift of our time and attention to people we might ordinarily avoid, it will take effort. We may get some odd looks from polite society when we spend time with tax-collectors and prostitutes.
2. Second, the opportunity – neither Vianne nor Jesus do anything especially complicated in these interactions but they change lives by seeing and believing in the worth of the person standing in front of them. You and I can do this too! We have the potential to transform lives by being hospitable and gracious, by listening and giving time to others.
We have an opportunity even this morning to do these things. Watch what God will do among us when we follow the example of Jesus!